Micro-Dosing Positivity And Eliciting Change Talk With Your Child Who’s Misusing Drugs Or Alcohol

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Micro-Dosing Positivity And Eliciting Change Talk With Your Child Who's Misusing Drugs Or Alcohol

In this quick, solo episode I share two important concepts that will help as you work to find ways to communicate with a child who’s misusing drugs or alcohol. 

Finding positivity and giving your son or daughter positive reinforcement can be difficult when things are chaotic and life feels out of your control. I share a concept called micro-dosing positivity which can work regardless of where your child is in their substance use.

I then share the importance of listening for change talk, which is a term used in Motivational Interviewing and can be incredibly powerful if you know how to use it. I share ways you can elicit this kind of dialog to invite your son or daughter to change their behavior.

It’s a short, snack-sized episode and will add a few more tools to your parenting toolbox.


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Brenda Zane
Welcome, you’re listening to Hopestream, the podcast for parents who are trying to navigate the tricky waters of parenting a child who is misusing substances in active addiction in treatment or early recovery. I’m Brenda Zane, your host, a fellow mom who lived the painful roller coaster ride and nearly lost my oldest son to multiple fentanyl overdoses. So I can relate. Hope stream is supported by this stream, which is a private, not on Facebook membership for moms of kids who are struggling with substance use. It is a place to get plugged in with other moms who get what you’re going through. And you will learn skills that can help improve your communication, your relationships, all wrapped in a positive vibe with a focus on you. There’s a lot of focus on your son or daughter, but who’s taking care of you. That’s exactly what we do in The Stream. You can learn more about our special space and everything that we offer at www.thestreamcommunity.com. 
Well, I am jumping in with a solo episode today, which I love because I usually cover a topic that someone in our community is struggling with, or something that I have learned in the research that I do. So today, I’m sharing two things with you that I think are really important. And what I really love about both of these is they are relevant and useful whether your child’s actively using substances right now, or if they’ve been through treatment, and now they’re working on finding a new way to live in sober living, or in a substance free place. Maybe that’s your home or in a group setting somewhere. 
The first thing I want to cover is what I call micro-dosing positivity. This concept came up in an online support community meeting through the partnership a few weeks ago. And I love this concept because what I hear from you and what I know from my own experience, is that doing the quote-unquote positive reinforcement thing can be really hard when your child is actively using, especially if they live with you and you see them every day, it can feel like there is not a single thing you could find that’s positive to reinforce. So instead of thinking about the big things that you would like to be able to reinforce like they got a job, or they went to school, or something that to us is monumental. Think about the smallest possible thing that you could be positive about. 
It might be that they stayed wherever they were the night before, instead of driving drunk. It may be that they didn’t leave a trail of stuff from the door to their bedroom. It might be that they went outside to smoke instead of doing that in the bathroom with the window open hoping you wouldn’t notice. By the way, we always notice, don’t we? I know that can feel disappointing to think, am I really giving positive reinforcement about something that doesn’t even come close to meeting my standards? And the answer is yes, you are. 
Here is thinking about expectations and standards and reinforcement. You have your standards. And those aren’t likely to change. And that’s okay. You just have to know that those are yours and not everyone else’s. You also have expectations around how people should meet your standards. And it’s those expectations that can cause you huge amounts of anxiety and frustration and disappointment and can also lead your child to feeling a lot of shame. So the famous saying is keep your standards at your chin and your expectations around your ankles. And if you do this, you’re going to feel less disappointment and resentment when your son or daughter does something to a lesser degree than where your standards are set. So what does that look like in practice? Your standards might be that your son comes home sober by his curfew.
Given the fact that he has been actively using multiple substances for the past six months, and hasn’t been home on time in over a month, having the expectation that he’s going to follow through on this standard of yours is just setting yourself up for frustration and anger and disappointment. So you don’t lower your standards. But at this point, your expectation might be that he’ll probably come home late and will be under the influence of something. This way, if he comes home late and he’s sober, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If he comes home on time and he’s not sober. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised if he meet your expectation. 
Remember, this is not your standard. He meets the expectation and he comes home late and not sober. It won’t be the huge catastrophe of the day and be a point of frustration for you. So back to positivity, I went on a little tangent there, sorry, but this actually does all string together. When your son comes home late, but sober, you will be able to micro dose of positivity and say something like, Hey, I appreciate you being sober, it means a lot that you kept your word about not drinking tonight, and leave it at that. Adding on a bonus lecture about how he is late, we’ll just negate all the positivity that you just gave, we can get so caught up in our own desires for what the ideal is that we would like to see from our kids, that sometimes we can miss out on the small steps that they’re taking right under our nose. 
And sometimes I know the behavior is really bad, and you literally might not be able to find a positive action or non action to reinforce. And in that case, you can make reduce your own positive actions. So positive self-talk is constructive. And positive self-talk about life in general, will also have kind of a halo effect on your child. If you pay close attention for let’s call it a 48 hour period, what you might find is that the majority of your words in conversations are either purely transactional, so finding out information or giving information, or they might slant toward the negative. So as an experiment, try to go two or three days shifting your focus to microdoses of positivity, whether that’s just an I love you, to your son or daughter when they’re at their worst, or even a wordless hug or a squeeze, if you just can’t get anything out. 
Another great dose of positivity, when you can’t find anything, is a smile. It doesn’t even have to be a smile at your son or daughter. But make sure that they see it. It might be like you’re making your morning coffee, or you’re scratching your dog or talking to a friend on the phone. But your smile is important. And it might have been a long time since your child saw one on your face. 
And then the other important element of positive reinforcement is something called change talk. And this is a concept that comes from motivational interviewing. It’s a skill that is part of the craft approach that we teach and use in the stream. And that you’ll learn when you read the Beyond Addiction book that I know you’re reading, or the 20 Minute Guide that goes with it. And change talk is basically any speech that favors movement toward a particular change goal. And depending on where your child is, on this roller coaster of substance use, you might hear little bits of it from time to time, or they may be in the pre contemplative stage of change. And that would mean that you’re probably haven’t heard any of this change talk. And before we dive into change, talk and how you can test for it and potentially elicit it. Here are some examples of what that can sound like:
I would I want to I could I can. If I blank, then I could blank. I’ve got to, or I can’t keep blank. So again, how much change talk you hear will often depend on where your son or daughter is in the stages of change model. And if you want to figure out what stage your child is in, you can listen to episode 66, where I go through each stage, and what’s likely happening, what you might be seeing or hearing with your child in that stage. And then some ideas for what you can do. So that’s episode 66. So that’ll be helpful to kind of ground you in where they may be. 
If you’re not hearing change, talk, there are ways that you can work to elicit it. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of work. Like everything with this, it is work. These tips are really useful, though if the other person is ambivalent about changing their behavior, because it gets them saying things out loud. And people tend to believe what they hear themselves. So the first way to elicit change talk is to use open-ended questions, which really just works to get the other person talking to begin with and to start opening up. You might say something like, I know you’re not ready now, but if you were going to make a change at some point, what is something that you would do? Or how would you go about that? 
So these open-ended questions are really meant to start a conversation flowing. You don’t have to be really specific with them. But if you haven’t been using open ended questions, which are ones that they cannot say yes or no to, then you’re going to want to start incorporating those, then you can also use the rearview mirror approach of what was your life like before you found, XYZ, let’s call it cocaine, or what’s different between the you from a year ago, and the you now. Now, this is really only going to be effective if the person’s experience some significant consequences as a result of their substance use. So if your daughter is smoking a lot of weed, but she hasn’t really felt any true negative implications from that yet, this rearview mirror might not be the right approach. 
The third way that you can start to elicit change talk is to take a forward looking approach and try to elicit the change talk by asking questions about how life could be or would be if their substance use continues, or if it’s discontinued. So that might be something like, what’s the worst thing that might happen if you continue to use cocaine? Or what’s the best thing that might happen? If you decided to stop or to change using cocaine? You could try the Time Machine question which I love the Time Machine question, which is if I could put you in a time machine, and fast forward, you too, you could either say being an adult, if you’re talking with a minor, or you could add five years on to their age. So if I could put you in a time machine and move you forward to being 29? What do you see yourself doing? And how does your cocaine use fit with that, assuming that nothing else changes. 
This future-looking approach can be really powerful, because it can start to instill some helpfulness in them, both for the fact that you’re willing to have this open dialogue about their use and to be thinking about their future. And they also get to think about what might be out there for them. They can imagine the discrepancy, and they can start seeing the discrepancy between what they’re currently doing, and the goals that they have. And they do have goals. That is one thing that I think is so important to understand is our kids, despite what they’re doing, they still do have goals and dreams. And when they do this future-looking exercise, what they can do is they can start to see how they need to change and close that gap.
I will tell you, though, to be aware that you have to be ready to roll with whatever response you get when you are eliciting this change talk. Because especially when you first start having these kinds of conversations with your son or daughter, they may be really suspicious, and they may push back or they may completely shut down. Because in the past, if your conversations have been very short and closed, or shame-inducing, they’re going to be very suspicious for a while. So you have to keep at it. 
There’s also a good chance, if you’re having this kind of a conversation, that you might end up having a harm reduction conversation. So if they have a goal of getting a job where they would be working during the day, they may say something like, Well, I guess if I got that job, I’d only be able to smoke after work, which could be an improvement from where they are right now, which is smoking all day. The key is to approach these questions with true curiosity, not with judgment or trying to control the outcome of their answers. And especially without unsolicited advice. I think one of the hardest things about questions like this is staying curious and being neutral. So for example, if you had the conversation, like I just shared, or your daughter says, Well, I guess I’d only be able to smoke after work and your response is, “That’s crazy! If you can not smoke all day, why would you still smoke at night?!” you will shut down any further ideas that she might have about actually going and getting that job and making that change? 
If however, your response is something like, wow, that job sounds really cool. So you might think about only smoking at night, if you got it. She’s likely to respond with something like yeah, which is a step in the positive direction. She has seen herself in a new situation, and it’s moving in the right direction. Listen, I know it is so hard as a parent to set aside our emotions and our tendency to want to lecture and to be the one who imparts all of our wisdom onto our children. There’s a saying about how we often work really hard to inflict help on our kids until it is not helpful. It’s also hard to take a consultative stance with them not trying to win a battle or get them to see our side of things. But if we do and if we do it enough where they trust us to actually listen And to not freak out and threaten to send them off to treatment, which by the way, at some point might be the right move, but never use that as a threat. If you can do that, you’ll be really surprised that eventually they may start to open up to you because they are starting to trust you. And you are going to learn so much about what’s truly going on with them. 
I’m putting a cheat sheet in the show notes for you so that you can download that if you want. It has reminders about what those change talk phrases are to listen for, and some tips on what you can do. This is hard stuff, don’t feel like you need to get it perfect every time. Just keep trying, keep practicing. Know that the more you do it, the more natural it’s going to feel. So if you want the cheat sheet, it’ll be in the show notes, Brenda zane.com/podcast, and then look for Episode 97, which is this episode. 
So just a quick reminder of what we covered today, because I kind of went a little bit all over the place. First, we talked about micro dosing positive reinforcement, because sometimes it’s hard to do the macro dose, right. And that might be about your son or daughter, it could also just be about yourself and something that’s going on in your world. And see if you can include a smile, bonus points for that. We also talked about keeping your standards high and your expectations around your ankles to avoid an ongoing kind of wave of frustration and disappointment. And then change talk, which is when you hear the other person making statements like I could, I would I can I might I have to. And we talked about some responses to those statements. And then finally, we covered three ways to elicit change, talk using open ended questions, to start the conversation flowing in the first place. And then the two tax tactics of the rearview mirror approach and then the future are forward-looking approach.
It’s a lot. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a lot. This takes a lot of work. So take your time, give yourself some grace. Also, give yourself a huge pat on the back for being here today and listening. It’s bigger than you know. You had the choice of doing something else with his time you chose to make an investment in yourself and in your child or your children. So please have a massive dose of self-compassion today. I really appreciate you listening and for sharing these episodes. I know that whoever you share them with appreciates it too. And that’s it for today. I will meet you right back here next week.

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